Monday, March 29, 2010

Legalizing Marijuana to Be on Ballot for Californians

Richard Lee is a well-known businessman in Oakland, Calif. His business
is marijuana -- and it is booming.

From his coffee house selling medical marijuana, to his trade school for
marijuana growers, Oaksterdam University, Lee employs 58 people and pays
hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in taxes.

But last week, Lee achieved what is arguably his biggest success yet,
after California's secretary of state ruled that his campaign to make
marijuana legal had gathered enough signatures to place the issue before
voters this November.

"I've always thought since I grew up in the '70s that cannabis
prohibition is unjust and hypocritical," Lee said.

The initiative would allow adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce
of marijuana for personal use. It also would allow the growing of up to
25 square feet of marijuana per residence.

If the ballot measure is approved, California would become the first
state to allow the recreational use of pot. It is likely to be a fierce
campaign.

Lee, a 47-year-old taciturn transplant from Texas, spent $1 million from
his marijuana businesses -- all of them legal -- on the petition drive
that got the referendum on the ballot.

And now he hopes to raise $20 million for the fall campaign. He's being
advised by some well-known political strategists, most notably Chris
Lehane, who worked in the White House under President Bill Clinton and
was a top operative in Al Gore's 2000 presidential race

"We're starting radio commercials Monday in Los Angeles and the Bay Area
and we have over 100,000 friends of Facebook," Lee said. "We're raising
money from all over the United States on the Internet because people
know this is a national issue and it starts in California."

But opponents are mobilizing, too.

Pastor Ron Allen of Sacramento is one of the leaders of a coalition of
cops and clergy who say legalizing marijuana will lead to the use of
harder drugs and only cause more problems for society.

For Allen, this is also a personal crusade. He was a crack cocaine
addict for seven years, and he says it all started with marijuana.

Passage "would devastate California to the fullest extent. ... This is
the worst thing that California could ever try to do," Allen said.

"To legalize marijuana with our kids, we are going to see more dropouts,
we are going to see more crime, we are going to see more thefts, and we
are going to see our kids just hanging out on the corner," he said.

Still, opposition to legalization is easing, both in California and
nationally.

Indeed, in some ways, Lee is a living symbol of how marijuana is
becoming mainstream.

His Oaksterdam University -- the name is a marriage of Oakland and
drug-tolerant Amsterdam -- has grown to three campuses in California and
one in Michigan. More than 4,000 people are expected to take classes
this year.

The school, which boasts that it provides "quality training for the
cannabis industry," and Lee's other businesses have helped to revitalize
part of downtown Oakland and turn the city into something of an
unofficial capital of the legalization movement.

Oakland already has passed its own version of the statewide ballot
question. Its referendum directed the Oakland police to make enforcement
of marijuana laws their lowest priority. Lee was a prime mover behind
that ballot question, too.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll in January found that 46 percent of
Americans support legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal
use, up from 39 percent in 2002 and 22 percent in 1997. A Field Poll
last year found that 56 percent of Californians support the idea.

In 1996, California became the first state to make medical marijuana
legal. Thirteen states have followed suit, and more are considering it.
Making recreational use legal is the next logical step, Lee said.

And in these tough times, he and other advocates say they have a
powerful new argument: Governments need the cash that taxing marijuana
could generate.

"The bad economy has definitely helped us out a lot as far as opening up
a lot of people's minds to seeing that this is a waste of money and that
we need to use our public funds better and tax these people," Lee said.

Advocates say taxing marijuana could generate $1.4 billion in revenue
for California every year, and save the state tens if not hundreds of
millions dollars more in enforcement costs.

But any tax revenue derived from legalizing marijuana would be "blood
money," Allen said.

"They would have to have new smokers and new smokers would be our youth
and our next generation," Allen said.

"And the money that they are talking about gaining on taxes, they are
not telling us on how much more the parents will spend on funerals, on
how much more the kids are going to spend in the emergency room," he
said. "It will exceed those taxes."

The referendum's passage would set up a clash with federal law, which
still considers marijuana a dangerous drug. But Lee and other advocates
said they doubt the federal government would ever come after individuals
for smoking pot.

1 comment:

Brian Bergeron said...

Historic statewide initiative in California to legalize, control, and
tax cannabis. Help build national support for the movement. Sign
up on the website, join the campaign! taxcannabis.org